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Return to Gauda Prime 2011 by Saba

“It’s getting light” – Returning to Gauda Prime

by
Saba


About a year ago, some of us were discussing the fact that 2011 would mark the 30th Anniversary of the end of filming Blake’s 7 – and that something really needed to be done to mark the occasion. Clare (aka Clareblues) felt we needed a get together to mark it... and she made some inquiries of a hotel in Oxford. The rest, as they say, is history.

I’ll try to capture the flavour of what the event was like, especially for those who wanted to go but couldn’t. However, I was one of the helpers – and so I wasn’t in the main hall for everything.

The event started with showing a montage from the series, which is now available online here. I only caught bits of it, but it looked super – it was odd tearing myself away from something I’d normally have lapped up – and the reason being that I had to tell our two very special guests that we were running a bit late and they wouldn’t be needed downstairs until slightly after we’d expected. I don’t need to tell you, I’m sure, how remarkable it felt in due course to be standing at the door of the conference suite, nattering (about buses, I think it was, amongst other things) with Gareth Thomas, Michael Keating and Dennis (Pres. Solvite), and keeping on having to go “Shh” as we kept making each other laugh and at the same time watching for the cue for Gareth to make his entrance.

Gareth’s music was “Robin Hood”, Michael’s was (of course!) “Got to Pick a Pocket or Two”; the music played, the guests made their entrances, and the event was under way.

Kevin Jon Davies compered the day beautifully. He started by interviewing Gareth and Michael and asking them what they were doing; recently, Gareth’s done Holby City and Paul Temple and Michael’s done EastEnders. Soon they were joined by the guests from Big Finish: David Richardson, Simon Guerrier and Peter Anghelides. They spoke about the audios that they’ve recorded and played us a clip from the Vila CD. A hush sometimes descends as a room holds its breath – it happens when people are really involved in what they’re experiencing. And it happened on Saturday morning: you could have heard a pin drop as it played. After thirty years, here was Vila again, on the Liberator. And it sounded exactly right.

Then there was a Q & A session. The questions I remember were these:

David was asked about the fact that Blake’s 7 was broadcast thirty years ago. The way stories are told in the media has changed a lot since then – language (there was no swearing), relationships (there was no sex in space), the emotional make up of drama, the general “feel” of things. How have they reconciled the tastes of a modern audience with the spirit of the original Blake’s 7? David’s answer was short – they haven’t needed to reconcile anything - they’ve stuck to the spirit of the original. (I think that if it had been permissible to let off a lot of indoor fireworks in celebration, then I’d have done so at that point!)

He was also asked about characterisation. For example, Cally’s character changed a lot from Series One to Series Three. Which Cally had they picked? David made it clear that he couldn’t tell us whether Cally would be included or not – but that they had portrayed the characters the way they were at the particular point in the story.

I hope I’m allowed to say that, without giving away any specifics, it was clear that they have it in mind to use other characters as well as Blake, Avon and Vila.

I cannot say strongly enough how grateful I felt that they’d come along and how warmly I responded to what they had to say. If you read this, thanks, guys!

Gareth was asked about the character of Blake in Series Four. He was asked if this is the Blake he preferred and would have wanted to play. He said yes, and that Sweevo, who’d asked the question, was absolutely right. Blake was more cynical and yet more assured.

Gareth was also asked about the damage to Blake’s eye in Series Four. This had been Gareth’s idea – although when he had to spend two hours in make up each day, he wasn’t so sure it was a very good one! He was asked whether there was any link intended to Travis. Both had become loners, both pursuing their own agenda, arguably having lost their grip on perspective. Even if it wasn’t a deliberate link, might there have been a subliminal one? Gareth said this was absolutely not intended.

We broke after that for coffee. The hotel did us extremely well in the way of cakes, biscuits, coffee, nibbles, drinks and meals. And I for one could barely eat any of it!

I had a lovely chat with David over coffee and remember talking to him about the way I saw Jenna. I got the impression that I didn’t need to worry. Another moment I remember with a smile is when he told me that he, too, had watched all of the original series’ when they came out. We’d both viewed them as teenagers – and here he was, recording further episodes with the original cast. (I know this must read like a plug – it’s unashamed!)

After coffee, Gareth and Michael entertained us reading some poetry and Shakespeare. I’d seen their books in the bar on the previous evening and felt like a kid trying to work out the Christmas presents from the shape of the wrapper and at the same time really not wanting to know! There was a Roger McGough book, and a copy of some Shakespeare – and I really was very good and hadn’t read the other spines!

They were superb. There was a mixture of lightness and seriousness in what they read. Some of it had us all laughing, and some of it was so serious that all were once again rapt. Gareth’s reading of the Roger McGough poem about a guy on hard times was so moving (does anyone know what it was called?) that I wanted it never to end. They messed around as Titania falling in love with Bottom (there were any number of Bottom jokes) and Michael read us the “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy from As You Like It.

We had lunch, which was delicious, and once again I couldn’t do it justice. But I did enjoy chatting to people!

After lunch was a showing of Blake sans sound and with comments from Michael and Gareth. It occurred to me that if the series had ended two thirds of the way through, then everybody would have lived and Vila would have got the girls. Hmm. Gareth did talk about filming that last scene of Blake and how he had muttered to Paul, “Kiss me, Hardy” or something very similar, as he slid gently to the floor. And how Paul had burst out laughing for what looked to everyone else like no reason at all.

After that was a charity auction. Gareth and Michael were the auctioneers, so how could we possibly resist buying things? The most sought after item was a complete set of Marvel B7 comics, which eventually sold for a lot of money and bidding got rather tense on them. The least sought after was... no. I can’t say it! I came away with a bottle of champagne which I’m very pleased with and an original signed script from the Big Finish audio recordings. The auction finished with a crocheted Blake figure, which Lucy (who’s amazing at crochet) had just finished and which raised a lot of interest amongst bidders. Then whilst the staff sorted out payments and handing items over to their purchasers, the guests lined up to sign autographs on photos... books ... and a bottle of champagne.

I’d left the auditorium and heard a huge roar coming from it, of both cheering and applause. I knew something was afoot and somehow wasn’t surprised when I heard very quickly that Stephen Greif had made an unexpected appearance. I missed Clare’s reaction – I wish I’d been there. Diane had mentioned the event to Stephen, who had decided to look in. I was privileged to be able to meet him last year and enjoy a drink with him and Diane – and really enjoyed seeing him again – and looking so well. I’m sure everyone who’s met him will agree what a gentleman he is. He posed for photos, chatted, signed autographs, and then with a wave went on his way. Although I did spot Kevin with his camera and microphone as Stephen was on his way out, no doubt catching a quick interview for the DVD.

After autographs, Diane organised an impromptu photo call – she’s done this sort of thing before and made sure that those who wanted photos got them, and that it didn’t take too long.

At this point, I helped Kevin and his son Liam to carry their equipment upstairs to the Green Room so they could interview Michael and Gareth. I found it interesting to watch the way Kevin set up the room: he was looking for items of interest to form a background. How often I’ve watched interviews and been intrigued by the flowers and furniture and photos in the background – and now I know it’s all deliberate. I watched, silently, as Michael was interviewed and then excused myself – there was a sauna in the hotel and not a lot of time before dinner!

Dinner was a formal occasion. There was one long table, with the two guests of honour in the centre on either side, and everyone else fanned out along the sides. We all gathered for a drinks reception, Michael having been joined by his wife, Sue, whom it was lovely to meet again. Let’s just say that the wine never ran out!

Dinner was delicious, although typically for the day, I couldn’t do justice to it. There was a certain amount of planning going on throughout it – speeches to be made, and after dinner entertainment to follow. I noticed that Brad disappeared, but hadn’t realised until afterwards, when he made an intrepid appearance with Gareth and Michael, that he’d be acting with them.

Michael and Gareth led the speeches. As has been noted on the board, they remembered those who’ve sadly passed away since the series was made. There was a special tribute to Terry Nation. I like to hope that somehow, his family will hear that thirty years on, Blake’s 7 fans raised a glass to his memory with gratitude. I hope they’d be pleased to know that.

There was a little presentation to Clare, who had organised and carried the weight of the event. However much the committee had commented and made suggestions and done little jobs, it was Clare who did the lion’s share. And to Diane, for her unstinting involvement with the show and Horizon over many, many years – not to mention such behind the scenes involvement with the event in October, the extent of which I suspect no one will ever know.

And after that, the entertainment. I won’t spoil it – wait for the DVD! What I will say is that one of the sketches was a spoof of “Round the Horn” and that Brad played his part – straight man to Gareth and Michael (in more ways than one!) impeccably. Well done, Brad, you’re a natural! Gareth and Michael were wonderful – as they had been all through the day. They had us in stitches.

We retired to the bar after supper. There was a lengthy and detailed re-enactment of the Interglactic War. Og’s horns appeared, and a passer-by might have noticed a number of people disguised in turns as a hairy lunatic monster. My personal favourite was the Supreme Og, who seemed to be about to eat its young – or was it about to feed it? Our minds boggled and it was very funny.

Eventually, we drifted off to bed. Far too excited to sleep!

We met at 10am on the next morning for the drive to Pyrton. It took me that long to feel human again. (Thank you to my understanding breakfast companions who seemed to think that being pale, unable to string two sentences together and completely unable to face food was quite normal for a convention Sunday morning.)

Pyrton Village Hall was tiny when you saw it - and was where Gareth and Michael had kindly agreed to re-enact that scene from Terminal. (My one regret is that I’ll never know where that fabled pub was!)

We were asked to wait outside whilst some sort of mysterious magic was weaved inside. So we stood in the sunshine, watching some red kites circling overhead – fanning their tails to steer. They were beautiful. And then when we entered the hall there was the bed from Terminal set up with the medical equipment (allegedly) essential for Blake’s survival – and a few rows of chairs for the audience at the back of the hall. We watched, enthralled, as Kevin set up the lights, the camera, Liam was working out where to place the microphone... the actors had their scripts and there was discussion of camera angles so that the scripts wouldn’t show. Lorna and Rob volunteered (I should say, were first to volunteer) to hold the scripts for the two stars to read from. Gareth and Michael had only just had them, and certainly not long enough to learn them, so it was important to work out a way of filming that would be as natural as possible and allow them to read.

The scene, which I suspect will turn out to last only a few minutes, must have taken well over an hour to film. Lines and gestures were repeated over and over again until everyone was happy they were right. Again, I won’t spoil it for those who weren’t fortunate enough to be there – but after you’ve seen it, bear in mind that each scene needed to be set up again exactly – actor back on his mark etc, and in the interests of continuity, the audience kept on shouting out, “GRAPES” to make sure that things went back the way they started.

At one point, Michael - now aka Avon and getting carried away in his part – broke into, “I love you, Blake. I want you, Blake.” And he brought the house down!

Having filmed it all from one angle, camera, lighting, microphone and scripts were moved around so that the opposite angles could be filmed and the same thing was repeated. This time it seemed to me that the scripts got rather more in the way. In fact, the scene was filmed by one actor reading the line and saying it, and then acting the line immediately afterwards. It was Kevin’s suggestion – fascinating to watch and I’m certain the edited version will have the same, and yet a completely different feel. I was trying to imagine music and sound effects as I watched.

All too soon the filming was over and we all filed out into the sunshine again and said our goodbyes. Gareth headed south – and some of us headed to a pub for lunch together. It was really nice that Michael and Sue decided to join us. Then there was one final surprise waiting at the pub door – Kevin, with his camera, looking for interviews and impossible to say no to.

It was a wonderful weekend. Even better than the things I’ve written about were the conversations I had with people. Thanks all of you, you know who you are!

There are lots of other memories, too, that don’t fit into any logical order. Helping Phil to carry his models into the main hall, and saying we felt we should be typing to each other rather than speaking! Meeting people for the first time. Meeting Klenotka and Sweevo. Meeting Brad and Paula whom I knew from their pictures. Enjoying meeting Lorna and Gary again. Being amazed that it had been nearly two years since I last saw Dennis and feeling like it was two months. Plonking a map onto Michael Keating’s lap and asking him to navigate as I drove to Pyrton through the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside. (Thanks, Michael – what a team!) I was so lucky to work with Gareth and Michael over the weekend – and felt like I’d known them for years by the end of it. Seeing Sally’s dress from Gambit – the one we’ve talked about over the years – and marvelling at how tiny those ladies’ costumes were. Listening to anecdotes from David, Simon and Peter from Big Finish... FINALLY meeting Lucy aka Angry Angel (and chuckling together most irreverently at times). I most certainly hope there’s a next time, and already looked forward to it.

***


Editor's note: In addition to the online montage, there's a trailer of the forthcoming DVD here which provides a tantalising glimpse of what it was like to be at the convention. The top picture is a screen grab from the trailer.

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